New U.S. ambassador to Russia begins his role amid tensions
Kremlin spokesperson hopes Jon Huntsman can repair 'damage done by Washington's actions'
The Kremlin said on Tuesday it hopes that President Donald Trump's new ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, can help breathe new life into battered U.S.-Russia relations.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the comments to reporters in a conference call ahead of Huntsman presenting his diplomatic credentials to President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
"We hope that, headed by the new ambassador, the U.S. diplomatic mission to Russia will be able to significantly contribute to repairing the damage done by Washington's actions to our relations," said Peskov.
Huntsman, who has twice served as a U.S. ambassador, arrived in Moscow on Monday to take over from John Tefft, who left after serving in Russia for three years, a period that was marred by a deep and rapid deterioration of ties not seen since the end of the Cold War. The U.S.-Russia relationship has soured even further in recent months following a series of expulsions of diplomats and closures of diplomatic missions.
"The current level of the ties cannot satisfy us." - President Vladimir Putin
In his address to Huntsman, Putin offered Russia's condolences over Monday's deadly shooting attack in Las Vegas and expressed hope for better ties with the U.S.
"The current level of the ties cannot satisfy us," Putin said. "We stand for constructive, predictable and mutually beneficial co-operation."
Putin also said both the U.S. and Russia should not meddle in each other's "domestic affairs."
Huntsman is the former governor of Utah and an experienced diplomat. He was confirmed as ambassador by the U.S. Senate at the end of last month. He was the nation's top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama before returning to the U.S. to run for president in 2012.
Huntsman comes into office with a drastically reduced staff after the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered the U.S. to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people, or by two-thirds, heightening tensions between Washington and Moscow after U.S. Congress approved sanctions against Russia.
In response, the U.S. suspended issuing nonimmigrant visas in Moscow for a week in August and stopped issuing visas at its consulates elsewhere in Russia.
Relations between Russia and the United States cooled following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting since 2014 has left 10,000 people dead. Reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election put a further damper on hopes for better ties that the Kremlin had pinned on Trump's presidency.
Congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller continue to investigate allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Trump's behalf, as well as potential collusion with Moscow by Trump associates.
Moscow denies such activity, and Trump dismisses any talk of collusion. Huntsman said at his confirmation hearing that there was no question Russia interfered during the 2016 campaign.
In August, the U.S. adopted a new package of stiff financial sanctions against Russia, aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering in the U.S. election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar al-Assad.
With files from The Associated Press